t's been an interesting week for D&D. The game I ran last Saturday was a success, though I had to trim back on its scope. I originally wanted to run a mini-campaign in one day, centered on the siege of a small castle. In the end, the siege became the meat of the event, but it proved more than enough to keep us occupied for nearly 8 hours of continuous gaming. If you follow me on Twitter—my handle there is @mikemearls—you had a chance to see live updates of the game as an orc horde threw itself at the castle's defenses.
I'm particularly happy that monsters like hill giants and a giant skeleton fit in with how I imagined the game playing out. The orcs recruited a hill giant as a walking battering ram. While he was able to lay waste to the castle defenders, he was felled in a few rounds by several, massive volleys of arrows and a tightly packed rank of spear-wielding warriors. The giant felt sufficiently threatening, but it also felt vulnerable to becoming overrun. That fit my conception of how such powerful monsters might operate in the world of D&D. They can turn the tide of a battle, but if left alone or isolated, the sheer weight of their enemies' numbers can overwhelm them.
That same trend held out for the characters, too, with some of the most dangerous moments occurring when a lone character was surrounded by orcs or caught by a sudden counterattack. A lone hero can defeat many lesser foes, but there is still a significant element of risk in being heavily outnumbered.
This past week saw the internal release of the next packet. Before we send things out to the public, we pass materials through internal groups and a select group of external testers. The newest packet included the druid, among other classes, and provoked some discussion of roles and classes in the office.
Roles in a tabletop RPG are a little tricky, since the act of choosing roles says a lot about what your game is about. DMs and gaming groups like to set their own tone and focus for campaigns, making it quite likely that whatever roles the design team picks might not match what the players want to do in the game. That doesn't mean we don't pay attention to what the characters are most likely to do.
Take combat as an example. Every class should have the potential to contribute to a fight, and our efforts to make attack bonuses fairly flat mean that most characters can make at least a nominal contribution through attacks. A wizard who avoids any attack spells whatsoever can still make ranged weapon attacks with half-decent competence.
Our approach to skills also plays into this. By limiting the maximum bonus you can gain through a skill system, we can keep most DCs in the 10 to 20 range. Even the highest DCs are still possible, though not likely, for characters without a bonus.
Although that approach speaks to basic competency, what about more specialized abilities? For something like healing, any class that you'd expect to have robust healing abilities should be equivalent to similar classes. Thus, a cleric and a druid are on equal terms here. The same would apply to a paladin with a specific focus on healing.
We've also used a similar approach for weapon-using characters, like the fighter, the monk, and the barbarian. They all use the same core rate of advancement in basic fighting ability, with each class then adding a unique mechanic (maneuvers, ki, or rage) on top of that.
A Little More on Healing
Last week I wrote about healing, and I'd like to follow-up with a specific idea for our core healing rules. My preference is simply to allow a small amount of healing: 1 hit point per level per hour of complete rest. An 8-hour rest would restore most characters' hit points.
The nice thing about this rule is that it is very easy to change it to match your campaign. You can simply speed up or slow down healing. If your group lacks a cleric and you prefer lots of combat, you can allow healing at 5-minute intervals. For a more lethal campaign, change the healing rate to 4 or 8 hours. By changing one factor, you can make a significant change to the tone and feel of your game.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.